26 Voices / January Interlude (2020) Karl Kempton Sewn booklet. H190 x W177 mm. 28 pages. Edition of 60 unnumbered. Acquired from Derek Beaulieu, 4 January 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.
Derek Beaulieu deserves a vote of thanks for bringing this work back into print, even if for a limited edition. 26 Voices / January Interlude first appeared under the title Rune 2: 26 voices/ january interlude as number 10 in Robert Caldwell’s Typewriter series, published by Bird in the Bush Press (1980). In the Acknowledgements, Kempton writes that the series “was composed in January, 1978 in 28 days. After the letter K the flow stopped until a dream of L’s form arrived unblocking the flow”.
The series of patterns, each made from an upper case letter of the alphabet typed over and over, range in appearance — some like Amish quilts, some like Byzantine rugs, some like Celtic knots, but like snowflakes, no two alike. Given how some pairs of letters are mirror images of each other (bd, pq) or inverse (bp, dq), you would expect some close affinity in their two patterns, but no. No pairs of those patterns look at all alike. You would also be mistaken to expect a pattern to reflect the letter that constitutes it. Instead, you find one pattern resembling the letter X, but it is made of letter U’s. There are naturally some similarities between patterns at the broadest level — E and N, L and M or R and S — but these have little to do with the letters themselves, and the similarity recedes as details come to the fore or falls into the background with illusory three dimensionality. The shapes are not rune like, but individually and sequentially, they have the associative dream-like qualities of runes.
A close up
Double-page spread B&C
B close up
C close up
Center double-page spread N&O
Double-page spread X&Y
X close up
Y close up
Z close up
Actual runes appear in the following work, similarly in black and white and with similarly illusory three dimensionality. Not technically in the Books On Books Collection, playground (2013-14) can be found online. Surprisingly, it has not been in print.
playground (2013-14) karl kempton Online, 78 pages (screens). Accessed 7 August 2022. Screenshots reproduced with permission.
What an opportunity for collaborators to join with Kempton to produce playground in different editions varying in color (black and white, red and white, green and white, blue and white, etc.), in paper (handmade, watercolor, washi, high gloss, matte, etc.) and in binding (accordion, stab binding, case bound, scroll, etc.). Perhaps such an extravaganza is not in keeping with Kempton’s style and approach over the years, but this playground is such an invitation to play.
Games and sports are depicted together with letters and punctuation marks on platforms made of the musical staff or stave, all of which offer Kempton multiple means of metaphor. FIrst, inked martial arts figures break a K of karate boards. Then, a baseball player bats the dot of a lowercase i into the air. A basketball player jumps and aims at a basket formed of a half note. A golfer chips toward a half-note hole flagged with a pennant bearing the treble clef G. A boxer punches the bowl of a large P.
The images become more worked as the book proceeds. A weightlifter atop a lowercase e lifts a set of weights composed of the umlaut above the e, and the shadow of the image is cast across the stave lines behind the letter. Shadows of gymnasts appear behind an uppercase G, lowercase o and lowercase i.
Animation sequences occur, such as the platform diver leaping from the body of a lowercase i and creating an exclamation-point splash in a pool formed by a circle that widens across the stave as the diver submerges.
Around the same time of playground‘s inception, this combination of letters and musical notation found expression among other artists: for example, Jim Avignon & Anja Lutz in Neoangin: Das musikalische ABC (2014) and Bernard Heidsieck in Abécédaire n° 6 clef de sol : été 2007 (2015). Metaphorically linking textual expression, if not individual letters of the alphabet, with musical scores goes back at least as far as Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (1897) and carries forward into explicit linkage by Michalis Pichler (2009) and Rainier Lericolais (2009) in their works of homage to Un Coup de Dés.
To return to Kempton’s playground, an interlude occurs to associate the alphabet with magnetism, then breaks off to return to the games motif, this time in the form of winter sports. The musical notation motif is still there, but Kempton modifies it with a piano keyboard at both ends of the stave and with manicules fingering the keyboards at both ends while articulating a variation on sign language. Musically and metaphorically, matters become more complex with the introduction of two pairs of staves, pyramids of squares and circles and one manicule using the lowercase i to bring back the magnetism interlude.
From here on, additional motifs are developed, and words and phrases appear: a physics experiment punningly labeled “period piece”, a night game lit by inverted question and exclamation marks, and juxtaposed opposites (“covered/uncovered” and “sunrise/sunset”).
All these motifs, textual and visual puns, and images seem concerned with the development of symbols for interpreting the world and communicating that interpretation. With the appearance on black background of an exclamation mark with an open book inside its point, then a pair of rectangles each suspended by the sentence “volumes lines speak / lines speak volumes”, an animated sequence begins an extended narrative drawing everything together.
After the descending hand squeezes out the yin yang symbol onto the stave from the image of an open book, Kempton joins this theme of interconnected opposite forces with the development of language, which is where the runes come in, held in an unclosed fist. Eventually the book concludes with an open pair of hands, centered on reversed-out stave/keyboards and holding a point of light radiant against the blackness.
Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History, Issue 2 (2021) Edited by Gill Partington, Adam Smyth and Simon Morris Perfect bound softcover, H314 x W314 mm, 180 pages. Editions included: Fiona Banner (aka Vanity Press), Full Stop, front & back covers; Kendell Geers, Stripped Bare, end papers; Carolyn Thompson, The Beast in Me, H1180 x W1180 mm; Erica Baum, Piano Rolls, H120 x W120 closed, W960 mm open; Harold Offeh, Crystal Mouths, H210 x W105 closed, W480 mm open; David Bellingham, Cigar Burn Apertures, H210 x W105 mm; Miranda July, Bookmark, H302 x W54 mm; Christian Bök, Supermassive, LP. Acquired from Information as Material, 10 October 2021. Photos of the issue: Books On Books Collection.
How materially perverse is it that the second issue of Inscription is devoted to “the hole”, yet it is the first issue that actually has a hole in it? The first issue of Inscription did set a seriously playful — or playfully serious — tone, and the second issue does not fail to maintain it. The second issue continues the dos-à-dos binding but with only the front and back covers as the external giveaway. In the middle of this single-spine paperback, pages 1-90 meet an inverted pages 90-1 in the middle, which prompts the reader to turn the open book 180° and flip back to page 1. From either direction, the reader meets the traditional backmatter of a journal in the middle.
Inverted cover and center of Inscription (2021).
Such reversals of expectation call for a countervalent design element to avoid too much confusion. In this issue, that element consists of constant earth-tone backgrounds framing constant black-on-white text boxes (square holes?) for each article. Even within these constants, reversals of expectation play out. The backgrounds are drawn from 14 different sources, ranging from laid paper samples, parchment, pulp and brown boards to a slice of Emmental cheese (sorry, Gromit, no Wensleydale), and the layouts for each square hole differ, being taken from 16 other journals such as The Criterion, The Egoist and National Geographic.
List of backgrounds used throughout the issue.
List of publications whose layouts are used throughout the issue.
The Emmental cheese background around the opening of Marcinkowski’s essay; Hybrid wove/laid paper made for James Watt & Co around the opening of Lüthi’s essay.
There is an even more recurrent “bass” line in this issue. It comes from the South African artist Kendell Geers, interviewed by the Editors. Even this bass line plays with variable perspective. Marking the start of most articles is a sheet bearing on recto and verso pages the image of a bullet hole (entry then exit) taken from Geers’ work Point Blank (2004). Bullet holes in glass — from Geers’ Stripped Bare (2009) — punctuate inversely the inside covers, bringing two symmetric/asymmetric openings to this topsy turvy production.
Kendell Geers, Point Blank (2004), front and back covers; Stripped Bare (2009; inside covers of Inscription (2021).
Long-time admirers of the 1960s-70s multimedia magazine Aspen, the editors have continued their practice of including unbound elements. In this issue, they have included Carolyn Thompson enormous poster The Beast in Me, whose sentences and part-sentences beginning with “I” have been cut from eight different novels and pasted down to form the hole seen below. Also included are Erica Baum’s Piano Rolls, Harold Offeh’s Crystal Mouths, David Bellingham’s Cigar Burn Apertures, Miranda July’s, Bookmark and Christian Bök’s Supermassive LP.
Carolyn Thompson, The Beast in Me, H1180 x W1180 mm. Photo: Ricky Adam. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.
Erica Baum, Piano Rolls, H120 x W120 closed, W960 mm open. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.
Harold Offeh, Crystal Mouths, H210 x W105 closed, W480 mm open; David Bellingham, Cigar Burn Apertures, H210 x W105 mm; Miranda July, Bookmark, H302 x W54 mm; Christian Bök, Supermassive, LP. Photos of the works: Books On Books Collection.
Like the famous combined Aspen issue Nos.5/6 — an homage to Stéphane Mallarmé — Inscription manages to pull off an eclectic unity with the essays included, which unlike Aspen was accomplished after a double-blind review process. Inscription‘s editors have turned on its head Robert Frost’s dismissive characterization of free verse as playing tennis without a net; they are playing doubles with a net and blindfolded and have created a work of art. This issue’s entries range from Paul Reynold’s erudite and whimsical definitions of all sorts of holes; the scholarly detective work on the holes that bind (pin holes and punch holes by Craig Robertson and Deirdre Lynch and filing holes by Heather Wolfe); James Mission’s tracking the crafts of scribe, typesetter and coder in representing lacunae, gaps or holes in the text; Louis Lüthi’s puncturing juxtaposition of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1948 abridgment of Moby-Dick, Orion Books’ 2007 Moby-Dick in Half the Time and Damion Searls’ 2009 riposte ; or The Whale; to Fiona Banner’s photo-essay on her hole-creating Full Stop‘s, granite sculptures of full stops (periods) created from the Peanuts , Klang and Orator typefaces, two of which were dropped into the marine protected area of Dogger Bank to put a sure stop to industrial fishing there. Here is the table of contents:
Michael Marcinkowski — “house / table” Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovíc — “Reading the Hole on the Last Address Memorial Plaques in Moscow” Fiona Banner — “Full Stop intervention with Greenpeace” Simon Morris — “Perspective Correction” Dianna Frid, Carla Nappi and Ian Truelove — “Wormholes, The Cascabel Butterfly and an AR collaboration” Aleksandra Kaminska and Julian De Maeyer — “The Perfect Cut: Talking with Myriam Dion” Paul Reynolds — “A Glossary of Holes” Louis Lüthi — “A Snow Hill in the Air” James Mission — “Signifying Nothing: Follow a Hole Through Three Text Technologies” Editors — “An Interview with Kendell Geers” Heather Wolfe — “On Curating Filing Holes” Craig Robertson and Deirdre Lynch — “Pinning and Punching: A Provisional History of Holes, Paper, and Books”
Inscription continues to provide one of the liveliest examples of what Anne M. Royston calls “artistic arguments (my emphasis), a term that indicates theory that pushes back against the expectations of the theory or criticism genre, specifically by employing signification that exceeds the semantics of printed text”.
Welcome to the online celebration of the 125th anniversary of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (1897).
This is the poem that launched countless works of free verse and experiments with typography and the page. Visually and physically, its arrangement of scattered words in different type sizes and styles across the pages echoes the drama, images and delaying syntax that the text plays out — a sinking ship, its struggling master, cresting waves, a Siren, a whirlpool or abyss, the North Star and its nearby constellation Ursa Minor. Its challenge to the reader heralded 125 years of artistic and intellectual engagements: a crisis in language and representation, the struggle to reconcile pattern and meaning with chance and nothingness, and the never-ending tarantella of the material with the conceptual. Mallarmé’s is the poem that made the world modern and then post-modern.
The poem also launched a host of livres d’artiste in numerous languages as well as homage in the form of film, painting, photography, sculpture, installation, theater, costume, music, dance, programming, and book art. Even exhibitions of book art. The exhibition best known from the 20th century is Marcel Broodthaers’ 1969 show. Academic exhibitions for the 1998 centenary of Mallarmé’s death included artworks. The fact, however, that no less than five art exhibitions in homage to Un Coup de Dés appeared in the first decade of the 21st century demonstrates a rapidly growing recognition of its importance as a muse to book artists.
Together, these exhibitions captured somewhat less than half the relevant works that would have qualified. Following the Pichler exhibition in 2017, the number of such works has only grown. On the 125th anniversary of the first publication of Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’abolira le Hasard, it is time to take stock again.
The Poem that “Made Us Modern”
The poem arrived May 1897 in Volume VI, No. 17 of Cosmopolis, Revue internationale, published in London. The anticipated shock of the poem’s layout for its readers prompted the editors to request a preface from Mallarmé explaining how to read the poem. Occasionally a worn copy of the issue comes up for sale by a rare book dealer or auction house, but Gallica (France’s National Library online catalogue) offers access where we can see the single-page and double-page spreads that caused such concern.
The Cosmopolis editorial team may have overestimated its readers’ immediate shock (there was little response), but imagine the team’s shock if Mallarmé had insisted that Cosmopolis somehow print the poem as he really wished: across eleven double-page spreads rather than the nine single pages into which it was compressed. Again, Gallica provides the means to see what most of us will never see firsthand: Mallarmé’s mark-up of the later proofs showing his intended double-page spreads. These proofs were for the deluxe edition Mallarmé wanted to publish with the entrepreneur Ambroise Vollard. From their correspondence, we know that prints by Odilon Redon were to be included. We know also that Mallarmé’s instructions on size, weight and placement of words, down to the letter, were meticulous.
The printers proclaimed the whole thing madness. Vollard did not press. And Mallarmé died in 1898. Finally in 1914, with the involvement of Edmond Bonniot, Mallarmé’s son-in-law, Éditions de la Nouvelle revue française (NRF) delivered on Mallarmé’s typographic intentions — almost — the typeface was Elzevir not Didot. Gallimard/NRF has reissued it several times in various trim sizes over the years. Subsequent archival discoveries and close observations led to other facsimiles, many of which are recorded in Thierry Roger’s monumental L’Archive du Coup de dés (2010). The scope of this essay/exhibition does not include every one of the many editions of the poem (or its translations) — only those that attempt an artistic homage as well. They appear chronologically among the artworks in the exhibition.
Neither is the essay/exhibition an attempt to explicate this enigmatic poem. What happens in Un Coup de Dés, what it means, how it made us modern and then post-modern — all that and more — have been the subject of countless books, essays and web pages. Those on which this essay/exhibition has relied for such insights can be found under the heading “Further Reading (and Viewing)” at the end of the exhibition. The aims here are rather to present the reader/viewer with an exhibition as comprehensive as possible of the works of artistic homage to this singular poem that have appeared since 1897. For additional exhibitions marking the occasion,see the heading “Other Exhibitions in 2022”, also at the end of this exhibition.
Covers of the 1914 edition (held by the Bodleian) and 1993 edition (from the Books On Books Collection). Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira “l’Appropriation”
While the experience cannot be the same, the reach of a virtual exhibition can exceed that of a bricks-and-mortar affair in certain ways. Moreover, it can provide building blocks for future organizers, curators and enthusiasts of book art and this unusual poem. By virtue of its virtuality, this exhibition is updateable. Its bibliographical references are linked wherever possible to permalinks, enabling the viewer to locate the nearest physical copy of the work. Where Pichler’s exhibition included a working player piano and piano roll version of Un Coup de Dés and films/videos (albeit not related to Mallarmé’s poem), this virtual exhibition provides visuals and hyperlinks to films/videos directly related to the poem as well as the same for operatic, balletic and musical renditions of Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard. The works of homage included come from an exploration of exhibition catalogues, BnF Gallica, the Library of Congress, the Bodleian libraries, WorldCat and Google search — and tips from the scholars and artists themselves.
The word “homage” extends a wide umbrella — over parody, pastiche, livre d’artiste and appropriations in all manner of art forms. One or two works in the exhibition stretch the point of paying homage. Picasso’s pun un coup de thé is one example. Its admission rests on its being the earliest hint of the poem’s presence in other artworks. Subsequent omissions may be intentional or unintentional. In its seeming allusiveness to the poem, Cy Twombly’s Poems to the Sea (1959) petitions for admission. Lacking more obvious appropriation, though, it is more an “homage” to Twombly’s experience of the Mediterranean than of Mallarmé’s poem. Other petitioners, considered or missed, await future curators.
From 1897 to 1959 (5)
Just five works of homage in the first sixty years after the poem’s appearance is not a promising start, but it provides context in which to appreciate the later acceleration.
The earliest homage to Un Coup de Dés came only a few months after its publication. It took the form of Australian Christopher Brennan’s handwritten pastiche scolding the critics of his own poems influenced by Mallarmé. The work has only appeared in facsimile and then not until 1981. Its lengthy title is better appreciated in its handwritten form. More on this work here.
Facsimile edition of the handwritten manuscript. Published by Hale & Iremonger. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
In 1973, the art historian and critic Robert Rosenblum remarked on Picasso’s likely homage in the truncated newspaper headline — from “UN COUP DE THÉÂTRE” to “UN COUP DE THÉ” — for use in his 1912 collage. The connection seems a stretch, but Picasso was aware of Mallarmé and the poem, as were the circles in which Picasso moved. One of the avant-gardists — Man Ray — would be far less subtle in his cinematic homage to the poem.
Man Ray’s set location was Villa Noailles, a villa built for Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles by the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens. Not surprisingly for patrons of Brancusi, Mallet-Stevens and Picasso among many others, the Noailles were footing the bill for Man Ray’s cinematic effort. The film opens with a screen quotation from the poem, but, other than the dice-shaped aspect of the villa which sparked the connection, the film develops its own mysterious suggestions apart from Mallarmé’s.
Film, one reel, 16 mm, 19:46 minutes. Posted 26 April 2014. Accessed 1 April 2018.
The Art et Action Laboratoire de Théâtre planned a spectacle including a polyphonic vocal performance of the poem as early as 1919. Thwarted by copyright law, Art et Action joined with the Société des Gens de Lettres for a new orchestration in 1942. Claude Autant-Lara’s 1923 poster for the abortive presentation (along with three other similar spectacles) and his decor (not shown here) foreshadow performance works by Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, Kathy Bruce and Alistair Noble, Bernadette O’Toole and many others — all noted below.
The efforts from 1897 to 1929 did little to prompt others to explore Un Coup de Dés for material and inspiration in the next three decades. Perhaps the first livre d’artiste version of the poem (and the fifth and last homage from 1897 to 1959) was created by Hella Guth in 1952. Guth’s distinctive style of collage foreshadows future extensions into more three-dimensional and material techniques.
Front and back covers of Hella Guth’s livre d’artiste. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France. Displayed with permission of Kate Rys, niece of Hella Guth.
From 1960 to 1969 (5)
The next six decades of the poem’s aftermath give a geometric progression of works in a variety of media by which homage was paid. The 1960s begin with two “over-the-top” works, over the top in very different ways.
Ernest Fraenkel was convinced that, working back from the text of Un Coup de Dés, he had “discovered” additional artwork in Mallarmé’s mind. The forms of the artwork could be shown by connecting the dots (the beginnings of the lines with each other, and likewise the ends) and shading the enclosed shapes — like a Rorshach test, only inverted (words first, then the images). Strange as the theorizing may be, stranger still is the visual results’ prediction of similar impressions almost ten years later arising from completely different premisses. More on Fraenkel’s work here.
Photo: Books On Books Collection.
Seven different diagrammatic renderings. The one at the lower right shows Fraenkel’s sideways view. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The second homage to appear in this decade is André Masson’s near illumination of the poem. It subsequently warranted an extended essay from the 2003 exhibition’s curators: Renée Riese Hubert and Judd D. Hubert. These three extracts from their essay provide useful touchstones to place against later works in this virtual exhibition:
Far from continuing or elaborating on Mallarmé’s project, Masson has contrived a systematic substitution of graphics, including calligraphy, for a typographical chef-d’oeuvre, thus enabling an unforeseen and uninvited art form to usurp the territory of another. (p. 508)
… in illustrating poetry he more often than not deserves his usual designation of abstract surrealist, all the more so because he combines automatism with the mythological dynamism so characteristic of his paintings and his drawings. (p. 513)
… Mallarmé’s poem, characterized by its avoidance of anecdotal narrative, its deliberate twistings of metaphorical patterns, its deconstruction of rhythmic continuity, practically precludes figuration. How can any illustration, however abstract, lend visual support to a text that compounds to such an extent the problematics of representation? … How could Masson graphically master a text that perversely withdraws from the reader and pores over itself, like the hypothetically sentient waves it repeatedly evokes, questions, and denies? (p. 514)
By the end of the 1960s, a very different form of homage takes over from that of Guth and Masson, one prefigured by Fraenkel’s abstract mapping of Mallarmé’s text into strips of black, one that would recur in several guises into the next century. Call it homage by redaction.
Detectable from its title, Diacono’s work intends a more social or political comment than Fraenkel’s. In an interview, he noted, “The title alternates not only colors, black and orange, but also uppercase and lowercase letters. The wordplay in essence says: the absence of metrics, of language, will not abolish poetry. Neither will the American taboos” (Nickas, 2019). Those comments align with the element of “pop” art and the underground comic in this homage. But does Diacono’s socio-political drive outweigh the rest of a METRICA n’aboolira‘s insistence on “looking at” Un Coup de Dés rather than reading it? Or is the work reminding us to read what we are looking at? More on this work here. The entire work has been digitized here.
Marcel Broodthaers’ homage appeared as a three-part centerpiece to the 1969 exhibition entitled Exposition littéraire autour de Mallarmé: Marcel Broodthaers à la Deblioudebliou/S (“Literary exhibition around Mallarmé at the Deblioudebliou/S”). Deblioudebliou/S puns on a distorted French pronunciation of the letter W and the three initials of the Antwerp gallery Wide White Space, where the event occurred. The three parts consist of ten copies numbered I-X on anodized aluminum, ninety copies numbered 1-90 on transparent mechanographic paper (the original edition) and three hundred copies numbered 1-300 on opaque paper (the catalogue edition). On Broodthaers’ cover, the word Image occupies the same space as Poème on the 1914 edition’s cover. Following that, Broodthaers displaces Mallarmé’s dismissive “Préface” from Cosmopolis with his own preface: the poem’s entire text set in a block of type with the lines separated by slashes. Until the colophon, that is the only legible text to appear in this homage by redaction in which all the lines of the poem are blacked out. As visitors to the show perused the editions, a tape recording of Broodthaers’ reading the poem played in the background. Broodthaers’ multimedia homage would provoke dozens of artists to create works of double-, triple- even quintuple-homage over the next sixty years.
Photos: Top image courtesy of Charles Bernstein; middle and bottom images courtesy of MACBA.
Broodthaers’ bookworks above are not the only forms of homage he created for Un Coup de Dés. The Galerie Michael Werner hosted an exhibition entitled “Footprints of a collector: Reiner Speck. Mallarmé, Broodthaers et les autres” (2 May – 23 July 2022). In addition to outstanding copies of the Image works, the curator Sabine Schiffer included Garniture Symbolique (1975), a blue-tinted glossy photo strip with nine photos on glossy paper, showing excerpts and phrases from the poem. Also, a painting entitled Un coup de dés jamais quand bien même… (oil, gold paint, felt pen on canvas) from 1969.
The last 1960s works of homage to mention are Daniel Spoerri’s Un Coup de Dés dinner-cum-artwork, originally held in 1968 and reperformed on numerous occasions, and the Aspen Magazine in a Box [aka : The Minimalism Issue] (No. 5 + 6, Fall/Winter 1967), dedicated to Mallarmé.
Spoerri’s homage is first and foremost performative art with invited dinner guests assigned their seats by a throw of the dice. Afterwards, the meal’s detritus is fixed to a surface for vertical display, like debris on the deck of a shipwreck. No image of one of the Un Coup de Dés after-dinner works has been found for this exhibition. It may be that one or more of these performances also alluded to the literary dinners at which Mallarmé declaimed. Mark Clintberg has recounted one of these Spoerri banquets (held at Haus Maria Theresia in Dusseldorf, Germany, on 5 February 2010), and its social satiric flavor seems distant from those celebrations of the late 19th century. Though not on display here, Spoerri’s performances in homage are worth noting as heralds of the veritable variety show of performances that will appear over the coming decades.
Although The Minimalism Issue is more an homage to Mallarmé in general than one to Un Coup de Dés in particular, it too is a herald. It makes for a mixed bag (or box) and is noteworthy as much for its difficult-to-access LPs and super 8 films as for its name contributors: Roland Barthes, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Dan Graham, Susan Sontag among others. With its mixed media, Aspen’s Mallarmé Box foreshadows even more eclectic and technically challenging efforts to come.
Permission of Whitechapel Gallery being sought.
From 1970 to 1979 (4)
If simply nodding toward Mallarmé’s poetic influence constituted homage, a small town of concrete poems could be put forward to pad the number of artworks of homage to Un Coup de Dés in the 1970s. As for artworks, perhaps artists were momentarily stunned by Broodthaers’ homage, for only four very different new works of homage appeared in the 1970s.
One of the participants in The Minimalism Issue of the Aspen Magazine, Dan Graham moved from his conceptual Poem Schema (1966), which appeared in the box, to an installation as homage. Graham’s primary interest had been Mallarmé’s long-touted Le Livre, which was to be not merely a book but a performance. So his attraction to Brian Doherty’s book as box of mixed media makes sense. Un Coup de Dés, however, may have had just as much influence as Le Livre. Consider these comments by Penny Florence as she writes about how Mallarmé’s poem and Odilon Redon’s prints must be read together:
They are a book with interchangeable pages, with varying directions and registers, with vertical and horizontal movements, with reversals and with shapes that are as important in signification as words. They challenge our notion of coherence and demand that we re-shape the relations between recorded and immediate experience. (p.110) [My emphasis]
That is also what happens in Dan Graham’s installation Present Continuous Past (1974). The installation room consists of two mirrored walls at a right angle to each other. A third wall on which a video camera is mounted above a video screen stands at a right angle to one mirrored wall and opposite the other. The fourth wall at a right angle to camera/screen wall of the room is blank white and provides the entrance to the installation. The video records the viewer and, after an eight-seconds lag, projects the recording onto the video screen. Because the recorder will then pick up the mirror reflection of the eight-seconds-lagged projection playing on the video screen and will then play that back after another eight-seconds lag, the viewer will experience in the present a continuous regress of the past(s).
Jean Lecoultre’s livre d’artiste of “soft varnish” etching resonates with Mallarmé’s dictum peindre non la chose mais l’effet qu’elle produit (“to depict not the object but the effect the object produces”). Lecoultre depicts easily identifiable objects — a stone, a measuring rod, a rope and more — and less easily identifiable ones — a blurred wall and windows, a metallic plate with two rows of six numbered holes (the one numbered “1” filled with red), a pair of draped rectangular columns being sliced with a cheese-cutter-like cable and so on. The soft-focus realistic detail of surreal images, the strange juxtaposition of objects and the way some objects seem to float on the page — these mirror Mallarmé’s arrangement of words and lines among les blancs of the pages, the precision of his images and the suggestiveness of his metaphors.
Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of Jean Lecoultre.
Mallarmé was always drawn to the idea of theatrical performances of his works, including Un Coup de Dés. He may have had a revolutionary grasp of staging text on blank pages, but he lacked any grasp of mise-en-scène for the actual stage. Despite his finger on the pulse of domestic fashion in his one-man magazine La Dernière Mode (1874), Mallarmé had no feel for the audience attracted to his contemporary Sarah Bernhardt.
He might have rejoiced that Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub filmed this Greek-style theatrical reading of Un Coup de Dés even if it came some sixty years after the attempt by Art et Action (see above). By staging the nine-voice reading in the Père Lachaise cemetery on the hill where the last Communards had been shot and buried, and also nearby the memorials to the Holocaust’s concentration camps, Straub and Huillet appropriated the poem for a forced chime with their film’s title, a quotation attributed to Jules Michelet, the 19th century historian of the French Revolution. War poetry and social indignation figure little in Mallarmé’s work even though the end of the Franco-Prussian war as well as the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune in May 1871 hung like a pall over France in his lifetime. But in light of another line from Michelet — “With the world began a war that will only end with the world, and not before: that of man against nature, mind against matter, freedom against fate. History is nothing but the story of this endless struggle.” Introduction à l’histoire universelle (1843) — perhaps the chime is not so forced. A video of the reading was made available on DVD in 2010.
As will be seen later in the exhibition, Ian Wallace is a “repeat hommageur”. Over three decades, he has created three separate works. With each one, something subtly new appears, but all are grounded in a particular kind of self-referencing shared with Mallarmé’s poem: the creative struggle reflected in the creation. In his own words:
In 1979, I made a large photographic work … which combined images of me in the studio making the work itself, with a text meditating on this concept of self-referencing. … This work was an early attempt to reconfigure a conceptual art practice through its literary antecedent in the work of Stéphane Mallarmé, …. After reading [Un Coup de Dés] for many years, I have come to appreciate it as one of the foundational works of modern art. Its theme, that of artistic destiny and a crisis of representation, was expressed through the collapse of metaphysics into typographics and the material space of the page. [Ian Wallace in Un Coup de Dés/Writing Turned Image, curated by Sabine Folie, p. 82.]
The 1980s begin with the acclaimed édition mise en oeuvre by Mitsou Ronat and Tibor Papp. In addition to trebling the previous decade’s contribution, the 1980s offer the first sculptural installations to pay homage to Un Coup de Dés — Robert Filliou’s Eins. Un. One. (1984) and Geraldo de Barros’ Jogos de Dados (1986) — as well as the first symphony — Claude Baillif’s Un coup de dés, d’après Mallarmé, Op. 53 (1980).
In 1980, Mitsou Ronat and Tibor Papp used Mallarmé’s corrected proofs of the abortive Vollard version to produce an edition closer to Mallarmé’s intention than previously published. They followed the intended unbound-folios approach to the poem but juxtaposed it not with the etchings of Odile Redon but with artistic interpretations by Papp and his contemporaries. A decade later, Renée Riese Hubert and Judd D. Hubert would comment: “This surprising accompaniment to a scrupulously authentic printing of the original poem pays so to speak a postmodern homage to a quintessential modern master” (p. 508). Over the decades after the Ronat/Papp production, other new editions appeared — also aimed at reflecting the Master’s wishes. Not including Françoise Morel‘s facsimile of the manuscripts and proofs(2007), there are three other explorations of the “true” edition (in French): Michel Pierson‘s (2002), Ypsilon Éditeur‘s (2007) and Alain Hurtig‘s (2012). Not shown in the exhibition, Pierson’s substitutes artwork by Jorge Camacho for that by Odile Redon. Ypsilon Éditeur’s edition restores Redon and appears later in this exhibition. Also shown later, Hurtig’s edition substitutes Catherine Belœil’s artwork for Redon’s and provides an insightful analysis of typeface options, including the Didot. For more on the Ronat/Papp edition, go here.
Photo of the work: Books On Books Collection.
Double-page spreads from the 1980 Ronat/Papp edition. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Tibor Papp, Déville. Paul Nagy, Untitled. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Claude Baillif began this symphony while teaching at McGill University in Montréal. The musical composition for five choirs, two double basses, two percussionists, two kettledrums, and electronic tape directly addresses the poem’s shape. As explained in the LP liner notes, Baillif assigned a particular “sound property” to each of the poem’s eleven double-page spreads (with two double basses, two percussionists and two kettledrum players punctuating the change from one spread to another); designated each of the five choirs to each of the five type fonts and sizes; and generated a “ribbon of sound” in the university’s electronic music studio to create additional echoes across the eleven spreads. The result is “essentially grave, still music”, although with a great deal of dissonance. Baillif may have been “helped by the contemplation of the calm vastness of the St. Lawrence Estuary”, but do not expect Smetana’s Vltava (The Moldau); after all, Un Coup de Dés involves a shipwreck. Baillif’s is not the first musical homage to Mallarmé. Pierre Boulez’s Pli selon pli (“Fold on fold”) in 1957 holds that distinction, but Baillif’s is the first dedicated to Un Coup de Dés and signals several others to come.
This work first appeared in 1984 and has been displayed in several 21st-century exhibitions, including Robert Filliou‘s first solo exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds in 2013. The constellation of 16,000 multicolored dice, each with all six sides bearing a single dot, delivers one of the more humorous works of homage to Un Coup de Dés. With the guarantee of a single dot, it might be thought that chance has been abolished, whichever and however many dice are rolled. The multiple sizes and colors of the dice and the varied constellations into which they might fall per installation suggest otherwise. Again, even this thought emits a throw of the dice.
As Ronat and Papp were preparing their édition mise-en-oeuvre following Mallarmé’s corrected proofs, Neil Crawford came across a copy of Robert Greer Cohn’s Mallarmé’s Masterwork, New Findings (Mouton & Co, The Hague, 1966) and was struck by its reproduction of the set of proofs sold by Pierre Berès to an American collector – the so-called Lahure proofs. Crawford, too, was determined to prepare a typographic translation of the proofs — but in English. Crawford’s choice of the Bodoni typeface as a substitute for the Didot that Mallarmé wanted can be justified on two grounds: first, the two typefaces are historically contemporaneous and inspired alike by John Baskerville’s experimentation with the contrast between letters’ thick and thin strokes; and second, even if there had been an English translation to set in 1897 or 1914, Bodoni was the more available face for English-language typesetters. Having enlarged Cohn’s reproductions to their originals’ size, Crawford undertook the daunting task of figuring out how to squeeze an English version taking up 10% more space than the French into Mallarmé’s careful layout. It would take seven years of evenings in tracing letters, translating, transcribing, adjusting, retranslating and retranscribing to generate hand-crafted layouts that could be stored away until the day that photocomposition would be sufficiently advanced to accommodate the word and character spacing necessary to follow them. Fittingly by chance encounters, Crawford was introduced in 1982 to Ian Tyson, who was planning his own livre d’artiste version. In an ironic reversal of Mallarmé’s concern that the Redon prints might undermine the typography, Tyson and Crawford were concerned that anything less than letterpress printing would not ensure the density of black on the page that would complement Tyson’s aquatints. This led to phototypesetting output as patch setting, then hand pasting according to Crawford’s layouts, and then creation of process line blocks for the relief printing in letterpress. More on Tyson and Crawford’s homage here.
Michael Lechner‘s diptych, a drawing and painting on acid-free, natural white Van Gelder paper, has some affinity with Tyson’s homage. Both oscillate between abstraction and iconography. Both allude to the computational but overlay it with sandy gradations of tint. Lechner himself writes: “by the geometrical, I trap the dream and by the dream I make fun of the geometry”.
Geraldo de Barros created his sculptural forms in the 1980s. Jogos de Dados was among the first large-scale sculptural installations paying homage to Un Coups de Dés. Haraldo and Augusto de Campos and their Noigrandes literary magazine had raised the profile of the poem over the preceding decades, and Augusto de Campos, friend to de Barros, dedicated a poem to his squares.
Mounted on wires stretched from ceiling to floor, the 55 geometric sculptural forms of de Barros’s Jogos de Dados(Games of Dice, 1980s) dominate the space, hanging in clusters facing this way and that. Close to the centre, the originating piece, Pai de Todos (Father of Them All), is a hexagon comprising 12 rhombuses, pristine in its mathematical precision, the simplicity of its black, white and grey colours, and its smooth, almost textureless expanses of Formica. — Rigby, Art Review.
Alessandro Zanella, founder of Edizioni Ampersand, asked the artist and fellow printer/publisher Vernière to join him in realizing this Italian livre d’artiste. Vernière’s abstract woodcuts capture the poem’s imagery of sea foam, shipwreck and the abyss. More on Zanella and Vernière here.
More an allusion than homage, Bernard Chiavelli’s hardcover comic book is the second of a trilogy, following its main character through adventures based on the imagined East African life of exile Arthur Rimbaud, one-time visitor to Mallarmé’s Tuesday soirées, fellow poète maudit, gun runner and Paul Verlaine’s lover. More on Chiavelli’s trilogy here.
Carol Rudyard’s homage is dual, linking Mallarmé to Marcel Duchamp, and may be the first video installation to incorporate Un Coup de Dés. In the video, the title of the poem is chanted. Perhaps recalling Picasso’s collage of newspaper text “un coup de thé”, Rudyard juxtaposes the text uncoup with the image of a goblet (une coupe), and the words le hasard appear, reproduced from a newspaper and repeatedly photocopied. Before that, the words de dés appear beside the glass, behind which is a cloth patterned in black and white squares suggesting a checkerboard or dice, and likewise the words jamais and n’abolira appear. Rudyard’s allusions are as subtle and elusive as Mallarmé’s own experiment with language in his poem as Lyn Merrington’s essay in Australian Divagations demonstrates.
Honorine Tepfer embeds her homage in paper as if taking her cue from Mallarmé’s letter to André Gide about the poem:
… le rythme d’une phrase au sujet d’un acte ou même d’un objet n’a de sens que s’il les limite et, figuré sur la papier, repris par les Lettres à l’estampe originelle, en doit rendre, malgré tout quelque chose […]. La littérature fait ainsi sa preuve: pas autre raison d’écrire sur du paper.
“… the rhythm of a sentence about an act or even an object has meaning only if imitates them and, enacted on paper, when the Letters have taken over from the original etching must convey something despite it all […]. Literature thus makes its proof: there is no other reason to write on paper.” — from Selected Letters, in Rancière’s Mallarmé: The Politics of the Siren, pp. 56-57.
Tepfer’s choice of Baskerville highlights the recurring issue of honoring Mallarmé’s wish for the poem to be set in Didot.
One of the more daring of livres d’artiste. Christiane Vielle not only deploys her engravings to take Mallarmé’s poem beyond the double-page spreads he envisioned, she also does so by redistributing his text under folds and across them. In offering her re-reading of the work, Vielle offers viewers the chance for their own re-reading in opening, closing and reopening the folds to see how the poem and images enfold one another in different views.
The number of works paying homage to Un Coup de Dés in the 1990s continued the decade-on-decade increase since the 1980s. Numerous exhibitions and conferences in honor of the centennial of Mallarmé’s death closed out the decade them were:
In keeping with D. J. Waldie’s reading of Danielle Mihram‘s analysis of the proofs of the intended Mallarmé/Vollard livre d’artiste and Waldie’s own examination of the proofs at Harvard, Young’s four woodcuts are presented separately from the text and aim to honor Mallarmé’s desire for images that are “blond and pale” in relation to the white of les blancs and the sharp black of the type. The design by Young and Felicia Rice used several cuttings of Bodoni to approximate the Firmin-Didot of the original proofs. More on the Young, Rice and Waldie volume here.
Any new livre d’artiste in homage to Un Coup de Dés naturally faces questions of quantity, placement and color of the artwork. Mallarmé’s primary concern was that they not detract from the visual imagery of the text in its careful typography and layout. In all three considerations, Ellsworth Kelly and Limited Edition Press may be honoring Ambroise Vollard’s entrepreneurial hopes more. Despite (or because of) Kelly’s minimalist associations, more is more in this leatherbound volume that runs to 97 unpaginated pages, including 11 lithographs. A double-spread of blank pages follows each recto page of text and each page of lithographs, each of which appears on a recto page. The number of prints is a balancing response to the 11 double-spread pages of the poem, but those intervening blank pages nod toward Mallarmé’s les blancs.
Mallarmé’s poem is one of many literary obsessions for Reinhold Nasshan and has yielded two works of homage: Würfelwurf and Un Coup. Both of these sculptural works are semantically subtle. The first deliberately omits the article eins (“a”). “Throw of the dice”, “dice throw” or “throwing dice” are all reasonable translations of Würfelwurf, but not “a throw of the dice”, which most German translators render as ein Würfelwurf when tackling Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés. But then Reinhold Nasshan is not translating the poem. As the subtitle indicates, he is making “a fragmentary approach”, an approximation. By truncating the poem’s title, Un Coup also projects its fragmentary approach. In its three-dimensional shape-shifting, it presents the “moment of movement itself, the transition between the throw and the impact of the dice, emerge graphically” (moment der bewegung selbst den ubergang zwischen dem werfen und dem auftreffen der wurfel, graphisch hervortreten zu lassen). More on Nasshan’s work here.
This is the second of Ian Wallace’s works inspired by Un Coup de Dés, and as he notes, it had a transformative effect:
… I did make a more assertive reference to Mallarmé’s book by photographing it at a specific page (as well as Jacques Scherer’s publication of Mallarmé’s Le Livre — his incomplete and unpublished ‘great work’ …) conspicuously inserted amongst a random collection of materials on my worktable…. I recognized that the blank pages of this poem were … an early literary equivalent to the endgame aesthetics of late modernist aesthetics of monochrome painting that I had practiced earlier in the 1960s…. and … shifted my work away from abstract monochrome painting to montage photography influenced by the linguistic aspect of conceptual art that I called the “literature of images.” — Ian Wallace in Un Coup de Dés/Writing Turned Image, curated by Sabine Folie, p.86.
Perhaps uniquely, Barry Guy’s musical homage to what he calls “a typographical symphony of words” has architectural origins. In the liner notes for its performance by the Hilliard Ensemble, Guy writes:
The choice of Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés as the basis of the piece came about through studies of the conceptual buildings by the architects Richard Rogers and Peter Eisenmann respectively. Rogers’ project was for the Tomigaya exhibition space in Tokyo where modules and floors would operate like an adjustable shelving system, flexing with the needs of the inhabitants. Eisenmann’s project was the Max-Reinhardt-Haus, Berlin, which manipulates the infinite three-dimensional Moebius strip to arrive at a series of topological surfaces which form the prismatic character of the building. The conceptual link was provided by Mallarmé’s poem which transformed the idea of the ‘module’ and the Möbius strip into a dice twisting in the air.
… One of the surprising elements is Mallarmé’s very radical use of upper and lower case lettering. I set about to distil the upper case words in sequence into a new quasi-abstract text that lent itself to vocalisation. Additionally Mallarmé’s ‘landscape’ layout suggested a graphic representation of the music and its movement. The score is accordingly on one large page and portrays the rolling of the dice associated with the desired pitches, execution and text. — Barry Guy.
Over all other hommageurs of Un Coup de Dés, Joëlle Tuerlinckx has the advantage that her name originates in the Old Flemish word teerling(en)/die(dice). Perhaps in some subtle way, this has made her susceptible to the poem’s influence. In correspondence, she writes:
I like to quote ‘rien n’aura (eu) lieu que le lieu ‘. I share this perception / conception of the world and of the space-time that it induces. almost like a philosophy of life, a way of living and exhibiting. — Joëlle Tuerlinckx, 18 February 2021, correspondence with Books On Books.
Tuerlinck’s first throw of the dice in 1994 was occasioned by being asked to place a work in the exhibition’s entrance display case. With no concrete sense of the display’s place or placement of the other objects in the exhibition, she left matters to chance:
On the road when I reached Witte de With, I picked up a green cube that morning, put it in my pocket. I still had a (hard-boiled?) breakfast egg in my pocket that I hadn’t had time to eat. And on a piece of paper, in front of the window, I scribbled a point, and immediately emptied my pocket. Everything happened, as it was obvious, on demand. I marked each object with a few points at random .. by the shape of the egg and its improbability as an object to be thrown or to have a face, and with the two-dimensionality of the piece of paper each stroke was in advance both won and lost. 18 February 2021, correspondence with Books On Books.
For her second throw of the dice (2008), Tuerlinckx placed (threw?) three black undifferentiated cubes on what appears to be a geographical map but is a happenstance stain created by a puddle of evaporating tea. With no markings on the dice, there is no winning or losing, and nothing has taken place but the place marked by the dice on a chance-made map.
Scholar of typography and design, Klaus Detjen presents the poem three times in this volume: first, in French overlaid with an interpretive design, then in French and finally in German. All three instances follow the typography and layout of the first book edition of the poem as published in 1914 by Gallimard. The colored linear frames, threads and markings are allocated to the typographical motifs Mallarmé uses. Using Chinese-fold folios, Detjen carries his color diagrams across the fore-edge to highlight the reading order as he understands the syntax relayed by the typographical motifs. He also takes Mallarmé at his word about les blancs and seizes on the whiteness of the surrounding space and runs to the prismatic metaphor that the spectrum of colors is simply the decomposition of white light. More on Detjen’s homage here.
Ofer Lellouche‘s homage consists of marine plywood covered in black leather, dice embedded in the spine and stand, 9 etchings, trim size of H76 x W56 cm, and Arches 250gsm printed in 22 pt Times New Roman. The pages of text replicate those of the then-current Pléiade edition of Mallarmé’s Complete Works. Of course, the size of the work is scaled up. The replication results in the placement of “JAMAIS” and certain other phrases and a typeface not as Mallarmé designated in the proofs for the deluxe edition. It also means that page numbers appear, and it accounts for the use of Times New Roman. There is an underlying reason for the scaling up and replication. Lellouche not only wanted the scale for the display of his double-page spread prints (below) but also for the allusion to Picasso’s rumored habit of using his copy of Mallarmé’s poems as a sketchbook. Ever since his “brick wall” encounter with Un Coup de Dés and its white-on-black, black-on-white aesthetic, Lellouche has felt its influence on his art — including self-portraiture, the figurative and landscapes.
The chosen trim size foreshadows Alastair Noble’s monolithic homage Mallarmé 2000 (H96.5 x W66 cm), and the ghostly etchings foreshadow the effects achieved by Raffaella della Olga’s phosphorescent ink in Un Coup De Dés Jamais N’abolira Le Hasard – Constellation (2009). But this homage is the only one that brings the poem together with all three artistic traditions of self-portraiture, the figurative and landscapes.
Alastair Noble‘s installation work focuses on the “Comme si / Comme si” double-page spread in Un Coup de Dés. Transparent overlapping sail-like shapes angle across the words printed at an angle within two frames hung on a wall at angles to one another. Hanging at angles from the ceiling by steel cables and holding screen mesh are three frames shaped to echo the diptych’s sail-like shapes. Seen longitudinally the three hanging frames form what could be the listing hull of a ship or the pages of a book opening or closing. Across and within two and three dimensions, Noble’s multiple mastery of space honors and rivals Mallarmé’s mastery of the double-page spread. The installation first appeared at the View Gallery in New York. The diptych was later displayed in the exhibition “The Next Word” (1998) curated by Johanna Drucker at the Neuberger Museum in New York.
Valise for Mallarmé is one of several aesthetic expressions of Kathy Bruce‘s experience of the poem that “made us modern”. With this homage, she takes Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte en Valise and Joseph Cornell’s boxes in an original direction and replaces their mysterious surreality with the mysteries of Un Coup de Dés and the surreality arising from chance-found objects and their juxtaposition. The Duchampian valise opens to show that it has been pressed into a Mallarméan voyage. In the deeper compartment sits a Cornellian glass-covered wooden box. It contains a red die; collage of an engraving of penguins, a spouting whale, a ship under sail against towering glaciers and a flight of birds; scraps of paper marked with Chinese ideograms and handwritten numbers and symbols; and mechanical diagrams. A reflective, smoky blue sheet surrounds the glass-covered “raft”. It is a piece of X-ray film discarded from Gramercy Hospital in New York City. The film is face down and affixed to a sheet of paper that later developed ripples. The excavated book on the shallow side of the valise is John L. Stoddard’s Lectures (Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Supplementary Vol 1). Stoddard was a prolific writer and prodigious traveller. The lecture series appeared 1897 to 1898, haply coinciding with Mallarmé’s poem and death.
Solitary Plume continues exploring Cornellian techniques with which to pay homage to Mallarmé. Cornell, too, was influenced by Mallarmé. He remarked that his boxes “are life’s experiences aesthetically expressed”, an echo of Mallarmé’s exhortation to describe not the thing but its effect. Even before it is opened, this cigar box wafts the effect of plumes of cigar smoke said to envelop Mallarmé as he held forth to the regular visitors to his Tuesday night salons. The solitary plume inside the lid poses as the “found” plume solitaire éperdue in Un Coup de Dés. In the poem, that plume solitaire is followed by the very lines printed on the edge of the triangular block of wood resting on a scrap of stiff, midnight blue material — the kind from which a cap (toque) might be made — in turn resting on a piece of crumpled velvet.
Comocíon, Contucíon, y Compresíon Cerebrales continues to reflect the influence of Joseph Cornell, but if it were viewed in any other context, we might miss that Mallarmé’s poem inspired it. The altered book’s title, difficult to make out on the spine, is Patología y clínica quirúrgicas (1873), a medical manual by Joseph-Auguste Fort, a French contemporary of Mallarmé. The manual’s shredded pages are packed around the wooden box embedded in the gutted medical manual. Inside the box, the dice can freely roll over the collaged print of ships. Among the packing at the foot of the box is a barely decipherable shred of a heading from the book that gives this work its title. How can Comocíon, Contucíon, y Compresíon Cerebrales (cerebral concussion, contusion and compression) be avoided in an altered book hanging tilted in a frame? What can protect against Chance that no roll of the dice can ever abolish or against the “bookwreck” in which the dice are embedded? What surrounds the altered book implies that they cannot. The crumpled white cloth (from the poem’s velours chiffonné) evokes not only a fallen sail but also a coffin’s lining in which the book lies.
Kathy Bruce and Alastair R. Noble, Foldings (1998)
With Foldings, Bruce and Noble joined forces. Six masked dancers wear costumes that are in effect human-size folios across which the pages of Un Coup de Dés have been printed front and back in French. As a prerecorded English translation is read by numerous voices corresponding to the changing fonts, the dancers rotate and display the lines being read. A performance was given as part of the exhibition A Painter’s Poet, held at the Leubsborf Art Gallery (Hunter College). This fell under the aegis of the Millennium Mallarmé celebrations in New York, the poster for which can be seen below overlaying the staging sketches for the performance. Later, as part of an installation under the title Navigating the Abyss (Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, New Jersey), the costumes were suspended from the ceiling along with a framed screen mesh reminiscent of Noble’s As if / As If (see above).
Update: 25 February 2023. The gallery of Dunoon-MoCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Scotland reprised the display of the six costumes in February-March 2023. Location: 18 Ferry Brae Dunoon PA23 7DJ. Hours: Friday & Saturday 12-5pm and by appointment.
For a more “tech-fashionable” version, scroll down to Bruce and Noble’s Digital Mallarmé (2008), a collaboration with James Cook.
Michael Graeve‘s series of paintings appeared in the group exhibition “On the ashes of the stars …” curated by Michael Graf at Monash University in Australia to explore Mallarmé’s influence on the arts. Like many of the works seen so far, Graeve’s is a multiple homage, but his is the first to include composers in a visual medium. The series distinctively pays homage to Un Coup de Dés by taking it as an intermediary to John Cage and Pierre Boulez. Graeve had found the three of them drawn together in letters between Cage and Boulez in the 1950’s. In his website, Graeve writes:
for Cage, Mallarmé’s poem was a precursor and invitation to include chance procedures and indeterminacy into compositions. Boulez on the other hand was much more concerned with the retention of compositional control, and as a result incorporated explicit choice for the performer (rather than chance) into his work. — Michael Graeve, 2003.
With images from a reprint of an early Sears Roebuck Catalogue and drawing on John M. Bennett‘s poetry as well as Un Coup de Dés, Jim Clinefelter composed his book on a borrowed Macintosh SE — the late twentieth-century substitute for penmanship. Mallarmé only thought of having some images from his friend Odilon Redon separated from the text Un Coup de Dés. Clinefelter’s sense of fun and close attention to the original led him to integrate those Sears images throughout with the text to mimic Mallarmé’s textual and typographic road signs. More on this parody here.
Denis Cohen‘s musical homage for five instruments, recorded voice and computer was commissioned for the Musée d’Orsay exhibition in 1998. The homage to Un Coup de Dés is indirect. In his notes to the composition, Cohen explains that he is using only a framework of durations derived from two verses of Un Coup de Dés (unidentified) by which another of Mallarmé’s poems is read (La chevelure/”The head of hair”). The title of Cohen’s work means both “veil” and “sail”, which is a dual meaning that Mallarmé exploits in his poetry: a veil of hair, a sail in the wind. A brief extract can be heard here.
In 1981, Imants Tillers had already begun a collective body of work known as The Book of Power, which has its roots in Mallarmé’s dictum “tout, au monde, existe pour aboutir à un livre“, variously translated as
“everything in the world exists to end up as a book”, “everything in the world exists to end up in a book”, “everything in the world exists in order to end in a book” [Susan Sontag’s version]
Tillers compiled the paintings from multiple individual canvasboards done in synthetic polymer paint and gouache. In 1998, he began to incorporate lines from Un Coup de Dés almost as a textual frame holding together the multiple canvasboards. But while the words inevitably contribute shared themes or motifs from Mallarmé’s poem, they are fully appropriated into Tillers’ own agenda, which leads in the next decade to a fruitful collaboration with Michael Nelson Jagamara.
It is a shame that no image of Mairey’s work of homage could be found for this exhibition. Fortunately, the brief catalogue for the 2003 exhibition in which it appeared has a useful description of it.
Françoise Mairey’s 1999 tribute to Un Coup de dés, like Masson’s, differs radically from Mallarmé’s original — it is compact, repetitive, and grid-like. She repeatedly typed each line of the poem until she created three-by-two-and-a-half-inch blocks of words, one block — or line — to a sheet of paper. Mairey recorded the date and place of her work at the bottom of each sheet, and she also noted the number of mistakes she made (both “evident” and “non-evident”), acknowledging the element of chance that caused her to hit the wrong key. Cheryl Hartup, Visual Poetics.
Mairey’s combination of the performance of creation with the artifact of creation recalls Ian Wallace’s approach in 1979 and 1993 and foreshadows that of Raffaella della Olga in 2018. Her metricizing and documenting the number of errors in the work shows an affinity with the Lettrists and Concrete Poets.
The wooden box holding this work and its transparent cubes may evoke thoughts of Joseph Cornell, but its exuberant Lettriste interior runs in a different direction entirely. It is a rare work, so Albert Dupont‘s description of it and the photos in Livre / Typographie, as well as its online presence at the Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet, offer welcome glimpses and insights. Dupont identifies the constituent parts of the work as five transparent dice variously inscribed and loosely embedded in the spine of a box-like tray of varnished wood encasing two renditions of the poem. Dupont calls these renditions poèmes-blocs. The first replicates the Ronat/Papp edition of the poem on transparent pages. Dupont calls the second section Calme-bloc, words taken from Mallarmé’s Le tombeau d’Edgar Allan Poe:
Calme bloc ici-bas chu d’un désastre obscur (Silent block fallen here from an obscure disaster)
Calme-bloc, also on transparent pages, consists of Dupont’s Lettrist interpretation of Un Coup de Dés, deploying type, hand-lettering, cursive script, drawings, diagrams and colors. In another layering, Dupont “revises” Mallarmé’s preface to the poem. He first prints the original, which begins famously “J’aimerais qu’on ne lût pas cette Note ou que parcourue, même on l’oubliât” (I would like this Note not to be read or, if read, to be forgotten even). Dupont alters it to “J’aimerais qu’on lût cette Note et que parcourue, même on s’en souvînt” (I would like this Note to be readand, if read, remembered even). Dupont’s re-reading/re-writing of the preface increases the chances of appreciating not only Mallarmé’s les blancs but also Dupont’s additional “unusual poetic elements, the geological or underwater transparency, les blocs“.
Unsurprisingly, Poème Bloc Poème was one of the works of homage selected for the 2003 exhibition curated by Renée Riese Hubert and Judd Hubert at the University of California-Irvine. The link above in this entry’s title leads to the WorldCat listing, from which other locations of the work can be found.
As noted at the start of this essay/exhibition, this decade boasted no fewer than five exhibitions of art paying homage to Un Coup de Dés, and its richness in works of homage continued that of the previous twenty years. It begins with two distinctly different installations.
Bill Seaman‘s installation consists of two video projectors, a Macintosh G4 computer, Red Dice software, laser disc player, electronic tablet and pen, sound system, and a desk and chair. In 2001, it was presented under the auspices of the Daniel Langlois Foundation and Cinémathèque québécoise. Jacques Perron of the Foundation writes:
By assembling different forms of expression in a “recombinant poetics,”(2) Seaman appeals to our memory, our imagination and our perceptions as we weave our own web of meanings. For not only does the participant play an active, even performative, role that is necessary for the meaning to emerge, this role also calls the notion of author into question. Like his predecessors in conceptual art, Seaman steps aside in favour of his work, leaving the greater share to the navigator.
Seaman’s work presents the text of Un Coup de Dés and his own interactive audio/visual meta-text. It involves large-scale projections, and via a Pen/Wacom tablet interface, the viewer/user can touch words with the pen and activate their vocalization. This is the first digital work of homage and a nearly prescient response to Rosemary Lloyd’s comment in the same year:
Mallarmé’s evocation, in his study entitled “Étalages”, of a “reseau de communications” may not have included the world-wide web, but he would certainly have enjoyed finding himself transformed and represented in electronic media, and may well have reformulated Un coup de dés into something more digital.
Following the installation As if / As if and performance Foldings, Alastair Noble embraced the tradition of “homage by redaction” with Mallarmé 2000, which was included in a well-reviewed installation at the Robert Pardo Gallery in New York. Arthur Danto remarks in Artforum:
The sculptor leaned six large, thick panels of glass against the wall, perching them on shelves. Deep troughs were sandblasted into the panels, corresponding to the way the lines and fragments of lines are arrayed in Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Des. The opaque troughs, from which Noble had entirely etched away any trace of language, were reflected as shadows on the wall. This almost metaphysical use of glass, with its vocabulary of transparency and translucency and its contrast between deep green edges and clear central area, manages to escape the decorativeness that dogs the medium.
In Sculpture magazine, Robert C. Morgan notes how the work signifies “the collapse of language through the cancellation of signs, the space in-between things” and comments:
The leap that Noble has taken is profoundly conceptual, yet visually exquisite….It is a revelatory exegesis on mental space and opens the threshold for how mental space can manifest itself as spatial presence through the cancellation of conventional signs,….
Like Mallarmé seeking to create a unified whole from syntactic, spatial and typographic leaps across eleven double-page spreads, Alain Satié places small paintings, collages and book-like objects into pockets in the clear plastic sheet shown. Although the items differ from one another, the arrangement of pockets impose an order. The interpolation of bien ou mal armé (“well or badly armed”) in the title of Satié’s work deftly picks up the teetering, the diffidence and indecisions in Mallarmé’s poem. In their technique, the forty items seen here allude to Satié’s corpus: body art, collage, assemblage and, above all, Lettrisme.
From www.coupdedes.com captured 05 January 2012, Wayback Machine. Accessed 16 March 2021. Permission to display, courtesy of Michel Pierson.
From www.coupdedes.com captured 05 January 2012, Wayback Machine. Accessed 16 March 2021. Permission to display, courtesy of Michel Pierson.
With the encouragement and contribution of the late Cuban Surrealist, Jorge Camacho, Michel Pierson and Denis Péraudeau undertook a limited edition to match Mallarmé’s typographic wishes. Rare as that print edition is, we are fortunate that the Wayback Machine has captured the supporting website launched in 2010. At that site, the poem can be viewed and downloaded (pdf), although Camacho’s artwork is not shown. With the earlier efforts of Neil Crawford (above) and the later ones of Alain Hurtig (below), we have three clear views of the poem set in Didot.
In the first three minutes of this extract from the film Molinari: la couleur chante (2005), Molinari walks through an exhibition of Équivalence, discussing it with Roald Nasgaard and commenting on Un coup de Dés, its visual musicality and his transformation of it into his colourful geometric abstractions. The opportunity to see all of the poem ranged along one wall and all of Molinari’s abstractions along a facing wall is a pleasure. More on this homage here.
Mutel’s appropriation of Un Coup de Dés looks forward to Sammy Engramer’s reproduction of the poem in sound waves and recalls Danielle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub’s nine-voice reading in the Père Lachaise cemetery. There are three connected volumes in this work. They seem to present four speeches from George W. Bush, four from Tony Blair and the text of Un Coup de Dés — in the form of phonograms. The reality is that the images are all the same — sound waves from an unidentified man reading Mallarmé’s poem. The false visualization of the politician’s speeches implies we are no wiser to what they were saying than we are to “reading” Mallarmé’s words shown as sound waves.
Chris Edwards‘ A Fluke follows in the footsteps of several parodists of Un Coup de Dés. He mingles bilingual homophonic mistranslation with the monolingual variety, false cognates, mis-contextualization and more to deliver his “fluke”. Part of that “more” leads off with the subtitle and side-by-side prefaces. The pun in “pretext” plays out not just in the word itself but in Edwards’ squeezing into one page the French pre-text alongside its English exaggeration. The squeeze harks back to Mallarmé’s “Note” being added to the Cosmopolis issue, where it first appeared, at the insistence of the editors. Having led with the pun and clown-car layout, Edwards follows on with a fright wig (mixed metaphors, too, are part of the “more”). He turns Mallarmé’s tongue-in-cheek “I would prefer that one not read this Note or that having read it, one forgets it” into “I wish I knew what lunatic pasted this Note here — …”. Edwards’ madcapping his way to A Fluke must have been part of a global warming trend in pastiche. How else to explain Jim Clinefelter’s A Throw of the Snore Will Surge the Potatoes (1998), John Tranter’s “Desmond’s Coupé” (2006) and Rodney Graham’s Poème: Au Tatoueur (2011)? More on Edwards’ homage here.
These two works of homage run the spectra of small to large as well as three- to two-dimensions. Each one lays claim to being thething for summarizing, critiquing, parodying and paying homage to le Maître‘s work. If the game is “the total expansion of the letter”, as Mallarmé declaimed, would the dispersal of the poem’s spaces and letters across the many faces of a Rubik’s cube not be the total reduction of the letter? Or would it be the collapse of the spacing and text in its various type sizes and styles into one 70 x 100 cm double-page spread? Noury provides us with two works by which to contemplate these questions. More on Noury’s work here.
The Bedside Book Project is a quintuple homage. It begins with this anecdote:
In 1945 René Magritte gave Marcel Broodthaers a copy of Mallarmé’s poem as ‘a way of explaining his art to a young admirer without explaining it literally’. In 1969, Broodthaers modified an edition of the poem by covering all its words with black stripes that correspond directly to the typographic layout used by Mallarmé to articulate the text. In this way, Mallarmé’s poem, which Broodthaers considered had unconsciously invented modern space, is reduced to its structure.
From here, Marine Hugonnier‘s imagination takes hold. As if in a film scene, she moves into the bedrooms of Redon, Schwitters and Hamilton, steals their copies of Un Coup de Dés from their bedside tables, alters each one by inserting images and then replaces them. The result is a series of installations in which the pages of their altered books are displayed on the gallery walls. Each has its “book title”: La forme du mystère (Odilon Redon), Altération (Kurt Schwitters) and L’espace social (Richard Hamilton). Here is Hugonnier’s description of Redon’s book and the installation performance in which it is presented:
Despite other publishers’ earlier efforts to publish an edition of the poem as Mallarmé intended it, Isabella Checcaglini, Ypsilon Éditeur’s founder and director, felt that gaps remained — specifically, first, that there was no version that included Odilon Redon’s three prints (top row below) and, second, that there was no version in Arabic (bottom row below). Checcaglini arranged with the renowned Moroccan poet Mohammed Bennis to fill the latter gap. In addition, she compiled a separate volume of essays: Bennis’ journal of translation notes and his correspondence with Checcaglini and Bernard Noël, the French writer and poet; her own essay recounting the history of Mallarmé’s uncompleted livre d’artiste with Ambroise Vollard and Odile Redon, including excerpts of correspondence among the interested parties; and Bernard Noël’s appreciation of the poem. The suite consists of four volumes: the poem in French and Arabic, the essays in French and Arabic.
This important edition should be read with Penny Florence’s book near to hand. Mallarmé, Manet and Redon insists that Un Coup de Dés must be experienced with Redon’s prints in place and shows us how to read it. Florence’s guidance has the added benefit that its example can be followed with the other works of homage in this essay exhibition.
With Navigating the Abyss, Kathy Bruce picks up the Cornellian baton again. Rigging-like thread wraps around a copy of Intermediate Reader, a relic from a series of readers compiled between 1867 and 1927 for the Brothers of the Christian Schools, headquartered in Montreal, which recalls Mallarmé’s school-teaching days. Three triangles of wood panelling are attached to the book’s back cover, a deft choice of material for the sail-like seams and shape. A glossy piece of postcard or a cut from the cover of an art book depicting a gilded hand, open as if having just rolled the dice, occupies one corner of the cover. It’s impossible to say whether it is the lower or upper, left or right, as the book has been turned upside down and back to front in its altering (note the photos above). The three loose lenses add to this effect of shipwreck detritus, as does the convex lens embedded like a porthole in the book and revealing a torn page and part of a handwritten letter presumably left in the book. Across from the convex lens, the pasted-down diagram is a scaled drawing of a template for what appears to be a rigging pulley with a diameter of 9 and 3/4 inches. The collaged precision diagram alludes not only to the ship but also to the poem’s reference to anciens calculs. It adds to the artifice and abstraction of poem, book, ship and flotsam that Bruce has created.
Mallarmé — as editor and heteronymic author of La Dernière Mode, as fellow admirer of new technologies with Octave Uzanne, and as ecstatic theorist of the dance in his essay Ballets — would surely have embraced Digital Mallarmé. Following their Foldings performance (see above), Kathy Bruce and Alastair Noble engaged with James Cook (then Chair of the 3D Division in the University of Arizona Tucson School of Art) to submit this entry for the College Art Association’s “Social Fabrics: LEONARDO Educational Forum Exhibition” in Dallas, Texas. Employing screen mesh, fabric, bamboo frame, Japanese rice paper, LCD displays, video monitors, CD player and power packs, Digital Mallarmé displays text with interpretive digital video images extracted from Un Coup de Dés. [Update, 25 February 2023:
It is curious that it took so long after Bill Seaman’s Red Dice for another digital work of homage to come along. The year before, Émile Fromet de Rosnay at the University of Victoria (Canada) mounted a web-rendering of Un Coup de Dés that enables the user to undertake the kind of syntactic and semantic tracking and re-presentation of the poem that Claude Roulet did in print with his publications in the 1940s as well as that by Klaus Detjen in his 1995 homage. Fromet de Rosnay’s and his colleagues’ work also foreshadows the digital techniques in the later works of homage by Karen ann Donnachie and Andy Simionato, Tayyib Yavuz and Derek Beaulieu (see below).
Michael Maranda calls his work a “meditation on les blancs“, the term that Mallarmé used in his 1897 preface to Un Coup de Dés to draw attention to the blank spaces surrounding the carefully scattered lines of verse. It is also an homage to Marcel Broodthaers as much as to Mallarmé. In all of the pages that follow the preface (“translated” by Babelfish into Dutch, then into English, and then printed in black for the English and reverse-out against a cream-colored background for the French), Maranda inks around Broodthaers’ blancs with cream-colored ink. Paradoxically, Mallarmé’s text and Broodthaers’ black stripes have become blank spaces, and les blancs to which they drew attention have been printed in cream. More on Maranda’s homage here.
Michalis Pichler appropriates Mallarmé through Broodthaers’ design and production: an efficient and direct double appropriation. He follows the trim size and layout of the 1914 and 1969 works. Further underscoring the double appropriation, he reprints verbatim Broodthaers’ preface (the full text of Mallarmé’s poem set in small type as a single paragraph with obliques separating the lines of verse). Like Broodthaers, he produced limited editions of three versions: 10 copies in plexiglas (rather than Broodthaers’ 10 in anodized aluminum), 90 copies in translucent paper (just as Broodthaers had done) and 500 copies in paper (rather than Broodthaers’ 300). Where Broodthaers had solid black stripes, though, Pichler substitutes laser cuts in the translucent and paper editions and engraving or abrasion in the plexiglas edition. Hence Sculpture (2008), rather than Image (1969) or Poème (1914). In 2017, Pichler would expand on his appropriation and inventiveness (see below in the next decade). More on Pichler’s works of homage here.
Pichler’s Sculpture editions: paper, translucent and plexiglas. Photo: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Michalis Pichler.
Cerith Wyn Evans‘ 2008 homage adopts the neon medium for which he is well known. Although his 2009 work reverts to paper, it does so in a way that continues his trademark celebration of light and shadow. Of course, Evans’ version of Un Coup de Dés pays double homage to Mallarmé and his redacteurs such as Broodthaers. Rather than in book format, though, the pages are framed and hung, allowing the pebbled wall behind the excisions to show through. More on Evans’ work here.
In Rainier Lericolais‘ homage, the words and lines of Mallarmé’s poem take up their positions as perforations on a continuous paper roll used for a barrel organ or hurdy-gurdy. For a multidisciplinary artist and musician, Lericolais’ choice of medium here is highly appropriate, as is the choice of Mallarmé’s poem for an artist in pursuit of “grasping the elusive“. The work is now in the permanent collection at the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou.
Six years after Raffaella della Olga created this homage, Paulo Pires do Vale included it in the “Pliure” exhibition at the Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian in Paris. An attendant ushers the visitor into a small enclosed area where a white volume is propped on a stand. The attendant moves behind the book, the small room begins to darken, and the attendant begins to turn the pages. Phosphorescent ink painted on each letter of the poem begins to glow, and the words emerge like stars in a constellation. More on della Olga’s work here.
Jérémie Bennequin argues in the preface to his multi-volume boxed work that Un Coup de Dés does not abolish chance but rather enhances, elevates, ennobles it, and he poses the two questions that initiated his homage. The first is Or, le hasard peut-il abolir Un Coup de Dés? (So, can chance abolish Un Coup de Dés?) He argues that, being an artist of the eraser, he is well-suited to erasing or abolishing Mallarmé’s work, and that rolling the die to direct his act of erasure or abolition is fitting. But then comes his second crucial question: … comment définir au juste, dans le détail, la cible de chaque coup? (how to define in detail the target of each throw?)
After considering such targets as the letter, the word, the page, the double-page spread, Bennequin settles on the syllable for reasons reflecting Mallarmé’s own theories of poetry and music. Booklet 1.0 represents the starting point displaying the poem in its entirety, with the next volume 1.1 being the outcome of the end of a live performance on 23 October 2009, which involved Bennequin decomposing Mallarmé’s poem by repeatedly rolling a die then locating, vocalising and erasing the syllable corresponding to the number rolled. This occurred on computer screen in real time. With each of the subsequent eighteen performances, the starting point was the state arrived at in the preceding booklet; 1.2 began with 1.1, 1.3 with 1.2 and so on. By the last performance, very little — but something — of Un Coup de Dés was left. So Bennequin has the answer to his first question. As he puts it in the last sentence of his preface: Le hasard jamais n’abolira Un Coup de Dés (Chance will never abolish Un Coup de Dés). More on Bennequin’s homage here.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Permission to display from Jérémie Bennequin.
Where Fraenkel, Diacono and Broodthaers gave us images of the text covered up, and where Evans, Lericolais and Pichler gave us images and planes of the text excised, Sammy Engramer presents us with sonograms — visualizations of the text being read aloud. Superficially, Engramer’s work might be considered an homage to these other homage. Unlike them, however, the text is still there, not blotted out or cut out, and yet, the visualization is not readable. Theoretically, one might scan the printed sonograms and generate a mechanical reading-aloud of the text, but that’s another artwork to be read. More on Engramer’s homage here.
Michalis Pichler‘s Musique version of Un Coup de Dés had its visual precursor in Rainier Lericolais’ Carton Perforé, but as a working mechanical homage, it is without precedent. In the next decade, in Pichler’s Milan solo exhibition appropriating Broodthaers’ Antwerp exhibition, visitors were allowed a “feet-on” encounter with the piece. More on Pichler’s works of homage here.
The number of works in this period almost doubles that in the previous decade, which is reflected in Michalis Pichler’s 2017 exhibition that expanded his appropriation of Broodthaers’ appropriation of Mallarmé. Not only did the exhibition include his Sculpture version of Broodthaers’ Image version of Un Coup de Dés and appropriate the title of Broodthaers’ exhibition that introduced the Image version, it also included appropriations from a dozen or so other artists. Among them was Sammy Engramer’s Wave (2009), but in 2010, Engramer held his own exhibition expanding Wave from the two-dimensional to the three-dimensional as well as adding an animation.
For this exhibition, Engramer prepared eighteen 3D PVC renderings of the sonograms and a large-scale animation of a rolling die. In one room, the pages from Wave ranged along the wall. In a hall-like room with the animation projected on the endwall, the PVC renderings occupied the walls leading to the die at the end. As tangible as the PVC renderings are — sounds made palpable — we are now more removed from the text than we were with the haptic book of printed sonograms. Where, with les blancs and the shape of the page, Mallarmé was addressing a crisis of language and representation in the face of chance and nothingness, Engramer amplifies the address with these visual, physical and multimedia renderings or transformations of Mallarmé’s entire poem. More on Engramer’s homage here.
Images and permission to display, courtesy of Sammy Engramer.
On Raffella della Olga’s website, there is a link behind the image that goes to an online presentation. The image, however, is of a unique, analogue work. The artist has taken apart a Gallimard edition of the work, folded the double pages and deleted with white paint all of the poem except each of the words from its title. A close look at the framed pages will detect the faint shadows of the painted-over text. On the wall, the permutation arises in the changeable order of hanging, which the online algorithm permits the viewer to perform.
The photo in question is the 78th among 81 photos that mirror and document an installation exhibited by Alexandra Leykauf at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2010. In the photo, a double-page spread has been removed from a book, folded and creased into a three-dimensional shape. Or perhaps, as hinted in the interview at the end of the book, it is an enlarged re-creation staged for the photo. The catalogue provides no caption for it or any other image. The text concluding the catalogue does not clarify what it is. Only for someone familiar with Marcel Broodthaers’ homage to Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard are the pages recognizable. More on
Given that the first “intermedial” response to Mallarmé’s poem was Man Ray’s Les Mystères du Château de Dé (1929), and given the performative homage of Art et Action, Strauss and Huillet, and Bruce and Noble, how much of a stretch for the poem’s influence can it be to inspire an opera for two sopranos, mezzo-soprano, six dancers, orchestra, live electronics, and live video? John King describes his work as “a chance-determined opera, where order, duration, spacing of each vocal part, all orchestral parts, dance fragments, order, spacing and duration are all chance determined TWICE, once for the first ‘act’ (30 minutes) which is followed by an entr’acte of 5 minutes, followed by a separately chance-determined second ‘act’ of 30 minutes duration”. The link above goes to a roughly 8-minute segment of the full version as presented by CalArts. The opera had its world premiere at his alma mater the California Institute of the Arts. Reviews here.
As with many of the homage to Un Coup de Dés, the subtitle here matters. Being in quotation marks, Rodney Graham‘s subtitle indicates that what follows is a missive, not a form. The missive addressed to a local tattoo artist was arranged à la Mallarmé and described an image of Popeye that Graham wanted. But the twist that makes Graham’s version work is the translation of the instructions into French and their publication in the 1913 format of Mallarmé’s poem. This is an intricate “set-up”. In a way, it is analogous to Mallarmé’s careful attention to the positioning of words and lines, the kind of mise-en-scène that characterizes much of Graham’s photography and painting. More on Graham’s homage here.
This is the third of Ian Wallace’s works of homage to Un Coup de Dés. On each canvas, the rectangles of pastels and white that overlap one another like working papers on a desk surround a photo displaying a work surface in the artist’s studio. This could be Wallace’s version of Rien n’aura eu lieu que le lieu (Nothing will have taken place except the place). For Wallace, the “place” that is central to so many of his works is the site of creation — the paradoxical place where nothing will have taken place except the place of creating, which is also the creation (work of art) that we are viewing.
Under the guidance of Professor Johan Wagemans at the Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, University of Leuven, Frouke Hermens and Ruth Loos created this animation to show captured eye-movements evoked by the features of the fourth page of the poem. Nature may not proceed by leaps, but in reading, the eye moves by leaps only, called saccades. The white line in the animation tracks side-to-side movements, the blue dot tracks ones up and down. In her article on the experiment, Loos declines to call the results of the animation an artwork, even though it was displayed in the Nottebohm Room of the Library Hendrik Conscience in Antwerp (6 August to 11 September 2011) positioned between the 1914 edition and Broodthaers’ “redacted” version. But why not? Compare and contrast this animation with Donnachie and Simionato’s work below.
Daniela Deeg in Germany and Cynthia Lollis in the US use pairs of Dutch, French, German, and/or English words printed on translucent paper illustrated with flat screenprinted simplified versions of photographs to address a core challenge that Mallarmé faces in his poem: in the presence of chance, how is language — the essential act of creativity — possible?
In Deeg’s and Hollis’ work, the pairs of words are synonyms. But, they ask, are they the same? Given how language is laden with connotations, can a word in one language really represent what a word in another language represents? And, if direct translation from one language to another is not possible, can language directly translate experience? More on this work here.
Jorge Méndez Blake’s originality in the homage Mallarmé Library arrives through multiple juxtapositions: the idea of the poem’s shipwreck with the resinous burnt detritus on the table; the detritus with the book-shaped rectangular blocks on the table; the flotsam and floating books in the print on the wall; the two-dimensional prints with the three-dimensional blocks; the black rectangular blocks with the idea of Marcel Broodthaers’ black redactions in his homage or appropriation.
Appropriation is very much a theme in 2011 exhibition and the other two works. The title Du fond d’un naufrage (From the bottom of a shipwreck) is lifted from Un Coup de Dés, and the artist has placed a copy of the poet’s Collected Poems and Other Verse on the floor, spine out as if on a shelf and squeezed tightly between two columns of bricks. Using the poem’s final line for the title of Toute Pensée Émet un Coup de Dés (All thought emits a throw of the dice), the artist reproduces with colored pencil nine classic shipwreck scenes and tilts them in their frames, thus paying homage to Mallarmé’s use of layout to evoke the image of a foundering ship. More on Méndez Blake’s works here.
Brian Larosche‘s oversized version of Un Coup de Dés requires the intervention of 3D glasses. Its large black cover suggests a dark movie screen on which Larosche’s version of the poem will play out in 3D. But why 3D? Trying to read Un Coup de Dés while wearing a pair of 3D glasses challenges the eyes’ patience just as much as the poem’s ambiguities challenge the mind’s. Within the Coup de Dés genre, there is a necessary strain of strained humor. Without it, art runs the risk of taking us too seriously. More on Larosche’s analglyphic slapstick here.